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The Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) ( , ) is an amateur Irish and international cultural and sporting organisation focused primarily on promoting Gaelic games, which include the traditional Irishmarker sports of hurling, camogie, Gaelic football, handball and rounders. The GAA also promotes Irish music and dance, and the Irish language. It is the largest organisation in Irelandmarker with some 800,000 members from the island's population of six million.

Gaelic football and hurling are the most popular activities promoted by the organisation, and the most popular sports in the country. The women's version of these games, ladies' Gaelic football and camogie, are organised by the independent but closely-linked Ladies' Gaelic Football Association and the Camogie Association of Ireland respectively.


Foundation and aims

The GAA had its genesis with Michael Cusack of County Claremarker. At the Civil Service Academy in Dublin, he established one of the first hurling clubs. Cusack, a native Irish speaker, was troubled by declining participation in traditional Irish sports.

To remedy this situation and to re-establish hurling as the national pastime, Cusack met with several other enthusiasts with similar concerns, most notably Maurice Davin. They established the Gaelic Athletic Association on Saturday, 1 November 1884 in the billiards room of Hayes' Hotel, Thurlesmarker, County Tipperarymarker. The seven founder members were Michael Cusack, Maurice Davin (who presided), John Wyse Power, John McKay, J. K. Bracken, Joseph O'Ryan and Thomas St. George McCarthy. Frank Moloney of Nenagh was also later admitted to have been present by Cusack, while the following six names were published as having attended in press reports: William Foley, a Mr. Dwyer, a Mr. Culhane, William Delehunty, John Butler and William Cantwell. All these six were from Thurles except Foley, who like Davin was from Carrick-on-Suirmarker. Given later controversies about playing 'foreign games' and the banning of members of the British armed forces and police from joining, it is notable that Thomas St. George McCarthy (a native of Banshamarker, County Tipperary) was a capped rugby international player (having played for Ireland against Wales in 1883) and was also a serving District Inspector of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) at the time. J.K. Bracken was the father of Brendan Bracken, who was later a member of the UK cabinet during World War II.


The initial plan was to resurrect the ancient Tailteann Games and establish an independent Irish organisation for promoting athletics, but hurling and Gaelic football eventually predominated. The following goals were set out:
  1. To foster and promote native Irish pastimes
  2. To open athletics to all social classes
  3. To aid in the establishment of hurling and football clubs which would organise matches between counties

The association's basic aim today is stated as:

Additional aims of the association are stated as:

The Gaelic Athletic Association in the twentieth century

In 1918 the GAA was banned by the British government, but Gaelic games were still played.In 1922 it gave up the task of promoting athletics to the National Athletic and Cycling Association.

In 1984 the GAA celebrated its hundredth year in existence. This anniversary was celebrated by the GAA with numerous events throughout the island. The All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship final was played in Semple Stadiummarker in Thurlesmarker to honour the town in which the GAA was founded.

Modern challenges

Ireland has changed rapidly since the mid 1990s. EU enlargement, combined with the Celtic Tiger economy, has led to a large influx of foreign nationals from the EU's new member states in Eastern Europe. This means that a large proportion of the country's population is now outside the traditional native-born family structure through which the GAA tradition was passed from generation to generation. This presents a challenge to an organisation that was previously not geared towards marketing itself to people who have not heard of it or its games, and instead relied on people who had been reared watching and playing Gaelic games. The GAA has launched a number of projects to attract non-traditional members such as consulting with the Australian Football League and running leagues aimed at non nationals. The fact that increasing numbers of Irish people live in cities presents challenges to the GAA as well.

Maintaining the GAA's activities in the overseas units is also a challenge for the modern association with the number of Irish people emigrating overseas in decline. Despite the large Irish diaspora, Gaelic games remain fairly low-profile outside of the Irish expatriate community. Initiatives such as full-time development officers and high-profile competitions such as the Continental Youth Championship and a North American College Hurling Championship currently contested between UC Berkeleymarker and Stanfordmarker are helping to bring the games to non-Irish people everywhere, while the British GAA is promoting Gaelic games to youth in Britain.


The GAA is a democratic association consisting of various boards, councils, and committees organised in a structured hierarchy, and the basic unit of the association is the club. Its world headquarters are at Croke Parkmarker. All of the association's activities are governed by the Official Guide. Each County Board may have its own by-laws, none of which may conflict with the Official Guide. Each Divisional Board may have its own regulations, none of which may duplicate or contradict the Official Guide or county by-laws.

All of these bodies are elected on a democratic basis and the members are volunteers. There is a small paid staff.

The organisation is overseen by the President, currently Christy Cooney. The President travels across Ireland and the world to promote the organisation and attend games; Cooney's predecessor Nickey Brennan travelled over 250,000 kilometres (160,000 miles) in Ireland alone during his three years as President, and visited Great Britain, Europe, North America, Asia, Australia and the Middle East on several occasions, meeting dignitaries such as New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg along the way.

Cultural activities

Through a division of the association known as Scór (Irish for "score") the GAA promotes Irish cultural activities, running competitions in music, singing, dancing and storytelling.

Rule 4 of the association states:

The Association shall actively support the Irish language, traditional Irish dancing, music, song, and other aspects of Irish culture.
It shall foster an awareness and love of the national ideals in the people of Ireland, and assist in promoting a community spirit through its clubs.

The group was formally founded in 1969, and is promoted through various GAA clubs throughout Irelandmarker (as well as some clubs outside of Ireland).


The Gaelic Athletic Association has grown to become the largest and most popular organisation in Ireland with some eight hundred thousand members out of the island's six million people and more than two thousand five hundred member clubs, and runs about five hundred grounds throughout the country and overseas.

The Gaelic games of hurling and Gaelic football were saved from ultimate decline. Both hurling and football were standardised. This standardisation helped to spur the growth of the modern games since they were now being organised on a structured basis.

The Gaelic games of hurling and football are also the most popular spectator sports in Ireland; 1,962,769 attendances were recorded at senior inter-county hurling and football championship games in 2003 while 60% of all attendances to sports events in Ireland were to Gaelic games (34% of the total to football and 23% to hurling). Soccer is the closest rival with 16%.

Due to a policy of having at least one club in every parish, clubs are fairly evenly distributed throughout the country in both urban and rural areas and the organisation's reach is therefore considerable. This presence means that the GAA has become a major player in the sporting and cultural life of Ireland though its Scór section. The association is recognised as a major generator of social capital thanks to its promotion of healthy pastimes, volunteering, and community involvement.



The GAA organises competitive games in both codes and at all levels from youth all the way up to adult senior.

The highest level of competitions in the GAA are the inter-county All-Ireland Championships where the thirty-two counties of Ireland Compete to win the Provincial championships, All-Ireland Senior Football Championship and All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship. Before 1892, the winning club in each county championship contested the All-Ireland championship representing their county. In 1892, Congress granted permission for the winning club in each county championship to use players from other clubs in the county. The Inter County scene of today was thus created.


While some units of the GAA outside Ireland participate in Irish competitions, the GAA does not hold internationals played according to the rules of either Gaelic football or hurling. Compromise rules have been reached with two "related sports."

Hurlers play an annual fixture against a national shinty team from Scotlandmarker.

International Rules Football matches have taken place between an Irish national team drawn from the ranks of Gaelic footballers, against an Australian national team drawn from the Australian Football League. The venue alternates between Ireland and Australia. In December 2006 the International series between Australia and Ireland was called off due to excessive violence in the matches, but resumed in October 2008 when Ireland won a two test series in Australia.


The GAA has many stadiums in Ireland and beyond such as Gaelic Parkmarker used by New York GAA. Every county, and nearly all clubs, have a GAA ground on which to play their home games, with varying capacities and utilities.

The hierarchical structure of the GAA is applied to the use of grounds. Clubs play at their own grounds for the early rounds of the club championship, while the latter rounds from quarter-finals to finals are usually held at the county ground. This is the ground where the Inter county games take place or the County Board are based. For example, a team like Gweedore GAA will play most of its games at Páirc Mhic Eiteagáin, if they reach the final of the club championship then the game will be played in MacCumhail Parkmarker, Ballybofeymarker.

The provincial championship finals are usually played at the same venue every year. However, there have been exceptions such as in Ulster, where in 2004 and 2005, the Ulster Football Finals were played in Croke Park, due to the fact that the anticipated attendance was likely to far exceed the capacity of St. Tiernach's Parkmarker, Clonesmarker.

Croke Parkmarker is the GAA's flagship venue, known colloquially as Croker or Headquarters, because the venue doubles as the GAA's base. With a capacity of 82,300, it ranks among the top five stadiums in Europe by capacity, having undergone extensive renovations for most of the 1990s and early 21st century. Every September, Croke Park hosts the All-Ireland inter-county Hurling and Football Finals, as the conclusion to the summer championships. On every St. Patrick's Day Croke park holds the All-Ireland club football and hurling finals.

The next three biggest grounds are all in Munster - Semple Stadiummarker in Thurlesmarker, Co.marker Tipperarymarker, with a capacity of 53,000, the Gaelic Groundsmarker in Limerickmarker which holds 50,000 and Fitzgerald Stadiummarker in Killarneymarker, Co.marker Kerrymarker, which can accommodate 43,000.

Other notable grounds include:

Criticisms and questions

Perception of nationalism and sectarianism

The Association has since its inception has been closely associated with Irish nationalism, and this has continued to the present, particularly in relation to Northern Ireland, where the sport is played almost exclusively by members of the mainly Catholic nationalist community, stressing political aspirations that champion the cause of an Irish Republic and that excludes the broad Protestant unionist population. According to one sports historian, the GAA "is arguably the most striking example of politics shaping sport in modern history". Another noted that, upon its foundation, the GAA "relatively quickly succeeded in defining for itself and the games it controlled an identity that interwove the threads of nationalism, Catholicism and rurality". Today, the preamble of the GAA Official Guide contains the statement, "Since she has no control over all the national territory, Ireland’s claim to nationhood is impaired". The "basic aim" of the GAA is "the strengthening of the National Identity in a thirty-two county Ireland through the preservation and promotion of Gaelic Games and pastimes." Rule 17b limits membership to those who "who subscribe to and undertake to further the aims and objects of the Gaelic Athletic Association, as stated in the Official Guide."

The GAA would argue that it has always promoted an Irish rather than Catholic identity,although rules provide that Roman Catholic parishes may be used as the basis for clubs, which are the basic unit of administration. Members of minority religions have played an active role from the GAA's inception up to the present day, for example the Protestant Jack Boothman, who was president of the organisation in the 1990s, while Sam Maguire Cup is named after Sam Maguire a Church of Ireland member. The GAA Official Guide forbids sectarianism and party politics. The GAA would also point out initiatives such as the 'Game of three halves' cross-community coaching camps organised by the Ulster Council in predominately Protestant east Belfastmarker—working closely with Knock Presbyterian Church The Ulster Council is also establishing cross-community football and hurling teams at school levels and is developing links with the Ulster-Scots Agency and the Church of Ireland. The Council has also undertaken a series of meetings with political parties and community groups who would have traditionally have had no involvement in the GAA in attempt to "promote understanding and foster respect on a cross community basis". In November 2008 the Ulster Council officially launched a new Community Development Unit, and one of the unit's six key responsibilities is the "Diversity and Community Outreach initiatives".

Certain GAA practices and rules may reinforce a perception within Northern Irelandmarker unionist circles that the GAA is a nationalist or sectarian organisation. For example, Rule 15 requires that the flag of the Republic of Ireland is flown and Amhrán na bhFiann, the national anthem of the Republic is played at all matches, even outside the Republic of Irelandmarker. As such, this anthem has been played at GAA events in the United Kingdommarker, Canadamarker, USAmarker and others. The naming of GAA grounds and clubs after republican heroes has also alienated the Protestant community in Northern Ireland, where "suspected associations between members of the GAA and republican elements have led to individuals and clubs coming under scrutiny from the security forces and weapons finds at Gaelic sportsgrounds have deepened mistrust." Past association with the republican hunger strikes and the letting of GAA grounds for hunger strike commemorations has also drawn criticism from unionists.<<A href="" target="_blank"> Probe call into republican event Following such an event in 2009, the Northern Ireland Assembly passed a motion calling on the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure to ensure that no sports club, which facilitates a commemoration or glorification of terrorism, receives financial support through his Department, either directly or indirectly.

This association with Irish nationalism made the GAA a target for loyalist paramilitaries during the Troubles. A number of GAA supporters were killed and clubhouses damaged. Indeed, as the profile of Gaelic football has been raised in Ulster so too has there been an increase in the number of sectarian attacks on Gaelic clubs in Northern Ireland.

In 2007 Fermanagh player Darren Graham, who represented the county at both Gaelic football and hurling, temporarily left the sport. Graham had received sectarian abuse from some fans, due to being a Protestant from a Unionist background. However he received support from his Lisnaskea team mates and the GAA board, who stated "Abuse of any players, officials or referees is not acceptable and all official reports of it will be dealt with seriously."

Rule 21 Ban on British security forces playing Gaelic games

Rule 21, instituted in 1886, prohibited membership in the GAA to members of the British forces, and prevented GAA members from attending social events with such folk. At a special congress convened in November 2001 the GAA voted by majority to change the rule and allow members of the security forces in Britain and Northern Ireland to play hurling and football .

Rule 27 Ban on members playing other sports

Until 1971, Rule 27 of the GAA constitution stated that a member of the GAA could be banned from playing its games if found to be also playing, or even attending matches of other sports such as soccer, rugby or cricket which were in conflict with the interests of the GAA.

The rule read "Any member of the association who plays or encourages in any way rugby, football, hockey or any imported game which is calculated to injuriously affect our national pastimes, is suspended from the association."

The rule was examined by GAA committees in 1965 and again in 1971 and under the guidance of Tom Loftus was abolished later in 1971.

Rule 42 Ban on other sports in GAA grounds

Rule 42 (Rule 44 in the 2008 rulebook) prohibits the use of GAA property for games with interests in conflict with the interests of the GAA. Current rules state that GAA property may only be used for the purpose or in connection with the playing of games controlled by the association, and shall not be used or permitted to be used, for Horse Racing, Greyhound Racing, or for Field Games other than those sanctioned by Central Council. Sports not considered 'in conflict' with the GAA were permitted. Notably, an American football game was once played at Croke Park.

On 16 April 2005 the GAA's congress voted to temporarily relax its Rule 42 requirement that GAA-owned premises are used by the GAA only. Central Council shall have the power to authorise the use of Croke Park for games, other than those controlled by the Association, during a temporary period with Lansdowne Road Football Ground is closed for the proposed development. At the end of this temporary period the rules shall revert to their pre-Congress 2005 position. The GAA's governing Central Council agreed that the first soccer and rugby union games in Croke Park could take place in early 2007. The first such fixture was Ireland's home match of the Six Nations Rugby Union Championship against France which was won by France 20-17.

In particular, sports associated with British origin are particularly frowned upon, and in the past were commonly referred to as garrison games.

Naming of competitions, grounds and clubs after nationalists

There are some GAA competitions, grounds and clubs named after Irish nationalists and Irish republicans. For example Casement Parkmarker in Belfast is named after Sir Roger Casement, a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood. The trophy for the main all-Ireland Gaelic football competition is the Sam Maguire Cup, named for Sam Maguire, who, although a member of the Church of Ireland was an officer in the Irish Republican Army. Other clubs and grounds are named after Patrick Sarsfield (Lucan Sarsfieldsmarker), James Stephens (James Stephens GAA), Patrick Pearse (Pearse Parkmarker) Charlie Kerins (Kerins O'Rahilly's) and Theobald Wolfe Tone (Bellaghy Wolfe Tones).

The above examples all lived before the early 20th century. A modern example is Kevin Lynch's Hurling Club which is affiliated with the Derry County Board and is named in honour of Kevin Lynch, a convicted member of the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA), who died on hunger strike in 1981. The GAA prohibits clubs being named after people who are still alive.

See also


  1. Cronin, M. (2000), "Catholics and Sport in Northern Ireland: Exclusiveness or Inclusiveness?", International Sports Studies, Volume 22, Number 1, 2000. Available at [1]. Viewed 18-09-2009.
  2. R. Holt (1992), Sport and the British: a modern history, p. 240, Oxford. Cited in Garnham, N: Association Football and society in pre-partition Ireland, page 135. Ulster Historical Foundation, 2004
  3. Garnham, N: Association Football and society in pre-partition Ireland, page 134. Ulster Historical Foundation, 2004
  4. Garnham, N: Association Football and society in pre-partition Ireland, page 134. Ulster Historical Foundation, 2004.
  5. "... the GAA’s great strength is that it is by and large based on the parish unit, as players go out to represent their families, their parish and their club.", Dungarvan Observer
  6. "And they're games that were incredibly well suited to rural Ireland at that time, because the GAA's master stroke was basing the organisation of the games around the local parishes.", Mike Cronin, speaking on "Irish Sport & Nationalism", The Sports Factor, Radio National [Australia], 19/01/01. Available here.
  7. "The GAA is perceived by the Unionist community as a sectarian organisation ...", Sugden, J. (1995) “Sport, Community Relations and Community Conflict in Northern Ireland", p.203, in Seamus Dunn (ed) Facets of the Conflict in Northern Ireland. London: McMillan Press Ltd. Cited in Northern Ireland Assembly Research Paper 26/01 (2001), Sectarianism and Sport in Northern Ireland. Available at Accessed 18-09-2009.
  8. Sugden, 1995, p.203
  9. Sugden Harvie report
  10. Northern Ireland Assembly, Research and library Service, October 2001, Sectarianism in Sport in Northern Ireland Research Paper 26/01 para 2.7
  11. Sugden (1995), p.203)
  12. Stadium rally 'politicised sport'
  13. McCausland slams H-Block event
  14. Northern Ireland Assembly: Official Report, Monday 21 September 2009. Available at Accessed on 2009-09-22.
  15. Sugden Harvie report, section 1.5.2
  16. [2]
  17. [3]

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